Henry Ford II, Caroll Shelby, Ken Miles, Lee Iacocca, Enzo Ferrari, Bruce McLaren, Cobra, Mustang, GT40, 330 P3 Modena, Le Mans, Detroit, 1966…
That list alone creates an impossible order for Hollywood to fulfill in a single big budget movie, and there are even more key players I left out. It’s no secret that car enthusiasts both young and old revere this infamous tale of American underdoggery taking on Europe’s elite in the most difficult endurance race known to motorsport.
Just type in “Ford GT40” on Google and you’ll be met with a modern renaissance of YouTubers such as Donut Media, Petrolicious, Vehicle Virgins, and more documenting the legendary car and race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Even large companies like Business Insider have tossed their hats into the ring to get a piece of the GT40 hype.
So as you can probably guess, it would have been very easy for Hollywood bigwigs to strip this legendary story down to another Oscar-baiting, star-studded cash grab. Yet, somehow, they didn’t.
Make no mistake, Ford v Ferrari is not a movie glorifying Henry Ford II. It doesn’t go out of its way to tell the audience that Ford is the greatest motor company on the planet and that Enzo Ferrari is an evil prick. It doesn’t pander Caroll Shelby as being the sole reason the GT40 was even built, and that his hands alone made the big win happen. Save for one scene where Lee Ioccoca (Ford Mustang Developer) pitches a new strategy to board members, it doesn’t even parade Ford as a visionary company. At it’s heart, Ford Ferrari is a movie about Ken Miles.
Everyone who’s reading this already knows the Ford GT40/Le Mans story so I’ll spare you a recap and uptight fact checking. What I do want to iterate are a couple of scenes that really brought out the emotion in what could have been a cookie-cutter film. Minor spoilers ahead.
First of all, I loved how this movie wasn’t scared of what Ford thought. It showed the positives and negatives of all the major players. Henry Ford II, which Shelby and his crew referred to as “The Deuce”, was depicted as an entitled inheritor with a fragile ego. Probably not far from the truth! And depending on which versions of the story you believe, the Ford execs really wanted their rag-tag team of engineers and racers to “play ball”. But, as with any corporation, branding is the only thing they care about.
It was also important that Ford v Ferrari showed Ford losing in 1965. Ken Miles urged early on that it was an impossible feat to beat Ferrari in 90 days, and, perhaps, his arrogance got him kicked off the team. Fair enough, but we all know Ford probably suffered from it. This made a later scene doubly important.
When Shelby’s team developed the GT40 for their ’66 go at Le Mans, he was told Miles wasn’t going to be driving again. He knew that was wrong, so he took up a risky strategy. When Ford II visited the factory, Shelby locked an executive in his office and asked the Deuce to hop in and see what a $9 million car can do. Shelby pushes the car to it’s absolute limit, forcing Ford II to scream and, eventually, weep. What first begins as a short, hilarious scene of “stickin’ it to the man”, soon begins to run a little long. After nearly a full minute, Ford II is still crying. The audience starts to feel a little awkward, then he says, “I wish my dad could have seen this.” A very powerful moment in the middle of the movie.
The final scene that really showed the heart of this movie was towards the end of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. (Minor spoiler ahead)
After Ferrari lost all three of their cars trying to keep up with Ken Miles, it was clear he was the best driver on that track; perhaps the world at the time. Lap after lap he broke records. Proving their point, the execs at Ford came up with the “brilliant” plan for all three GT40s to cross the finish line at the same time. This rubbed Shelby’s team the wrong way and Carroll told Miles that it was his call. Out of stubbornness, Miles continued pushing his car to the limit, outclassing anyone else on the track. But then at one point there’s a quite moment when he looks into his rear view mirror and there is absolutely no one behind him.
Realizing he had accomplished everything he set out to do, he slows down and finishes with the team.
Without spoiling any more of the movie, it is clear by the second act that the entire team on Ford v Ferrari have created something special. It has amazing writing, a great cast, some of the best on-screen racing I’ve seen in film, and, most importantly, it doesn’t try to please higher-ups. Ford v Ferrari is a big budget film, yes, but one that used it’s resources capture the essence of how the greatest automotive story of all time became an unexpected victory.
In addition, I’d love to share some of my own Ford GT experiences. I’ve nabbed a video of a replica Ford GT40 revving high, I’ve gotten to experience some of the Le Mans glory third-hand (more like 100th-hand) by reviewing a 2006 Ford GT, and I’ve snapped some fun pics of the first new Ford GT in Sioux Falls. Enjoy the links below!